Large PrintHandheldAudioRating
using
 paypal
Twisting The Hellmouth Crossing Over Awards - Results
Is your email address still valid?

Lapsang Souchong

StoryReviewsStatisticsRelated StoriesTracking
Story

This story is No. 4 in the series "Miles to Go". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Buffy’s just getting the hang of her new life, her new enemies and the open road when she’s needed back home, but is Sunnydale still her home? Sequel to ‘Oleander Wine’

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Supernatural > Buffy-Centered > Theme: Dark(Moderator)AvaFR15117,8138303,13422 Dec 0922 Dec 09Yes
Title :: Lapsang Souchong
Series :: Miles to Go
Rating :: FR15
Beta :: Demona
Disclaimer :: Supernatural and all related characters are copyright Eric Kripke, Kripke Enterprises & The CW Network. No infringement intended. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters are copyright Joss Whedon and ME. No infringement intended.
Spoilers :: Supernatural season four episodes “I Know What You Did Last Summer” and “Heaven and Hell”
***Note :: This is a sequel to ‘Oleander Wine’ and you might want to read that story first or this one won’t make a lick of sense. This story runs concurrently with the events of the Supernatural episode “Heaven and Hell” .***

Synopsis :: Buffy’s just getting the hang of her new life, her new enemies and the open road when she’s needed back home, but is Sunnydale still her home?


Lapsang Souchong

The light-knit sweater rose up, exposing a line of smooth skin as Buffy bent at her waist, hips cupping the pool table as she lined up a shot. Doyle’s gaze dipped as he noticed the pleasant fit of her jeans. The sharp crack of the cue striking another ball lifted his head and he shook it, a hand snaking up and around the back of his neck as he silently reminded himself he was teaching Angel’s girl the fine and true ways of hustling pool and shouldn’t be noticing her finer attributes unless he wanted to be eviscerated.

Clearing his throat and pushing himself away from one of the high-top tables, set up sporadically around the dive the pair currently found themselves in, Doyle complimented before he critiqued, “Nice lineup, but y’ur using too much force.”

He came up beside Buffy and motioned her aside before leaning forward himself and lined a shot. He turned his head back towards her and absently shook the hand gripping the pool cue. “Ya got to loosen y’ur grip. It’s not a stake and the cue ball’s not a vampire.” He offered her a wink before turning back to the shot.

Blue eyes narrowed as he pulled the blue tipped end of the pool cue away from its intended mark and then snapped his wrist forward, sending the white ball spinning towards its striped brother and sank it in the corner pocket. He rose with a triumphant smile and turned, offered the tiny Slayer a knowing look as he stated, “And that’s how it’s done.”

A finely shaped brow rose before a slow smile spread Buffy’s lips and she shook her head, moving back towards the high-top table they’d commandeered and Doyle followed her over. With a hesitant glance around them she lifted the Caffery’s Doyle had ordered for her and took a cautious sip. Green eyes widened and the other brow rose to meet its sister as Doyle lifted his O’Hara’s and toasted the empty space between them. “Told ya, you’d like it just fine.”

“You did,” she took another sip before replacing it and stated, “it tastes a bit like—”

“Toffee?” Doyle interrupted with chuckle and smirk. “That it should.”

“But it’s not sweet.” A line appeared between her brows as she clarified, “I would have thought it’d be sweet. What with the toffee and all.”

His smile widened as he clarified, “And that’d be the beauty of a good ale.”

The smile she flashed him was just the side of cheeky as she stated, “And you would know,” before spinning on her boot heel and strolling back to the pool table. She moved herself to the farthest corner from him as Doyle watched her, still sipping at his own drink. A look of concentration tightened the area around her mouth and for a brief moment her nostrils flared. Doyle’s chin dipped, hiding his smile behind his glass as he watched Buffy once again setup a shot and she took a moment to shake out her right hand as she lined it with her left.

Green eyes lifted from their intense study of the cue and a solid to him and he lowered his glass, making his smile reassuring as he nodded to her. She sucked in a quick breath and Doyle’s gaze dropped as he couldn’t help but notice how that simple movement filled out the v-neck of her sweater and then the slight bounce as she sent her pool cue cracking against the cue ball. His eyes snapped shut and he took another, longer pull of O’Hara’s before turning away from the table and Buffy’s fine form to replace his glass on the high-top.

There was a muffled thump and roll as Buffy sank her solid and she made an excited sound that turned Doyle back to her. She bounced onto the toes of her boots and Doyle kept his gaze at neck-level or higher even as he applauded her.

“I did it!”

Her happy exclamation had him nodding again, “That ya did,” and he motioned her to take another shot, “which means ya go again.”

“Yay me.” She lifted the pool cue and moved, placing herself before the white ball again, even as she prompted, “So what’s your story?”

A brow rose with the sudden query and Doyle inclined his head. “Story?”

A nod dipped her chin as she bent, lining up a shot. “Yeah, story. Like what brought you to the good’ole L of A? How’d you meet Angel?”

“Ah,” a nagging voice told him which question was more important to the diminutive blonde, but for the moment Doyle played dense and offered her, “Well it’s quite the tale, it is.”

She sank another shot and prompted, voice drier than his O’Hara’s, “Really?”

“Really,” he shot back and continued, “It’s full of ribald adventures and beautiful damsels with loose morals.” Her short bark of laughter had Doyle smiling as he offered, “Don’t suppose you’d like to be one of those damsels?”

“Tempting.” Buffy shot him an amused look as she strolled back to him or more than likely her drink. “But I’m none too interested.” She leaned her pool cue against one of the stools and reached around him for said drink, but not before offering him a bright smile. “Thanks for the offer though.”

Doyle gave a put upon sigh. “I suppose this means ya’ll never fall for my ample, but unpretentious charms.”

She gave him a slow nod in return, her eyes widening even as she appeared to be holding back her laughter and Buffy stated, voice nearly even, “I suppose.”

He watched her take another few sips of ale and he couldn’t ignore the subtle shift in her stance as she directed her considering gaze beyond him to encompass the entire establishment. Doyle turned with her, attempted to see what a Slayer saw as he gazed at the rows upon rows of empty bottles lining the wall behind the bar. The stale scent of cigarette smoke clung to the well-worn stools and high-tops, hanging heavy in the dank air as one of the patrons, a no-neck in a beaten-in leather jacket, rose from his corner of the bar to trudge over to the jukebox that only worked every so often.

“Not the nicest of establishments.” He turned, chin dipping as he gazed down at Buffy’s profile as she continued to study the dive. He waited till she turned to him before offering, “But, as you can now attest, it does serve a mean ale.”

She kept eye contact as she took another sip of her Caffery’s before smiling and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Yep.”

Her exaggerated popping of her ‘p’ shook Doyle’s head before he stated, without preamble, “I get visions.”

“Huh?” Buffy sent him a confused look and he raised his brows, watching as understanding dawned and she turned her attention back to the other patrons as she stated, her voice certain, “You got a vision that led you to Angel.”

“That I did.”

There was a short lull in which Buffy took longer drink of her Caffery’s before offering, “And the rest is history.”

The undercurrents to her tone had Doyle turning back to her and treating the Slayer to the same careful study she was giving the bar. He wondered, for a brief moment, over which part of her history she was obsessing on—Angel, hell or both—before he attempted to her pull back to the present, his voice as quiet as hers, “The past has an awful way of not letting go doesn’t she.”

His mouth thinned as Doyle came to the realization that his time spent with Angel was turning him into quite the softy, but the grateful look Buffy sent him very nearly made it worth it. Unfortunately he was still more than certain she was unwilling to be one of the damsels in his tale and he was also fairly certain Angel would remove parts of his anatomy he was greatly fond of should he try rather than just supplying her with false identities and such.

The perils of working with a vampire he supposed and winced when a woman’s voice cut across the dim of the bar and began to sing, ‘You and I in a little toy shop, buy a bag of balloons with the money we’ve got…’

A snort shook his shoulders as he met Buffy’s wide-eyed stare and she began to giggle as they both turned to stare at the no-neck patron that had chosen Nena’s ‘Ninety-Nine Red Balloons’ as his first choice in songs and Buffy turned back to Doyle. “If the Macarena comes on we’re so booking it.”

“Agreed.”

~*~

Absently Buffy continued to sketch out the few symbols she could remember of the box that had held the Colt Paterson currently sitting cattycorner to her at Dr. Primrose’s kitchen table. The overhead lights brought the etched words and symbols of the gun, that could kill demons, into focus and Buffy added the Latin phrase, “non timebo mala” to her doodles before refocusing on the backwards ‘C’ she was creating with sharp slashes of pencil against paper. Her eyes narrowed, chin dipping as she recalled the contrasting symbol that belonged in the center of the design and she quickly added it, wrist dipping as she attempted to mimic the low arch of its bottom.

“I shall fear no evil?”

The slight upward tilt to the tail end of Primrose’s statement made it a question and had Buffy turning to meet her gaze. She shrugged and nudged the gun with the tip of her eraser. “Was distracted by the shiny,” she used the pencil to circle the phrase on the gun before asking, “any clues as to the hows and whys this thing kicks such ass?”

“A few,” the doctor moved to take the seat directly in front of the Colt Paterson and she lifted it, held it delicately as she turned it over, thumb caressing the pentacle carved into the wooden handle. “Most of theses symbols are positioned precisely, much like the keys in Solomon’s grimoire.”

With a quirk of her brow Buffy returned to her symbols and lackluster memory skills as she snarked, “Couldn’t you just say devil’s traps?”

She began an upside-down ‘Y’ with two lines running parallel through the top and smiled when Primrose made a rude noise, somewhere between a humph and snort. “I suppose you’re right.” Buffy’s smile widened with the sudden agreement to her observation and she dipped her chin to hide it as she added circles over the sections where the lines intersected. “I could perhaps slow my speech as well.” Buffy’s head rose and she shot Primrose a glare as the older woman offered, “I don’t want to confuse you.”

“Funny.”

Her dry retort only succeeded in raising one of the doctor’s brows as she lowered the gun back to the table. “Yes, well I have been known to have a sense of humor once in a great while.”

Green eyes rolled toward the ceiling as Buffy snapped the pencil against the polished wood of the table and felt a small sense of satisfaction as Primrose grimaced with the noise and thrust the notebook towards the doctor. “This is all I can remember.”

Primrose accepted the pad of paper with a gentle touch before bowing her head over Buffy’s notes and showcasing the pale brown of her hair. She’d let it grow since Buffy had seen her last and the few months had added a gentle wave and a bit of grey at the roots. Buffy eased back from the table, letting the tip of Willow’s Docs nudge the floor as she peered around the ex-Watcher towards her kitchen and the cast-iron kettle just beginning its low heat whistle.

The sound gradually grew in intensity as Primrose remained engrossed in the few symbols Buffy had been able to remember and she turned, frowned as the lines around the older woman’s eyes grew deeper. “Dr. Primrose?” Her blue eyes narrowed and she continued to scan the notebook, flipping the page to Buffy’s previous attempts. “Primrose?” A line appeared between Buffy’s brows before she raised her voice and palm slapped the table, “Amelia!” before rising and moving toward the now shrieking kettle.

She caught the wooden handle and hesitantly lifted it from the heat, the tightness in her shoulders easing with the sudden drop in noise as the kettle calmed. Depositing it on a cool burner she turned, sent a confused look towards Primrose as the older woman rose from the table and turned to Buffy, still holding the notebook. “Some of these symbols are a form of cuneiform.”

“And this means what to me?”

Blue eyes narrowed with her flippant response and Primrose’s brows dropped, turning a rather forceful frown into a glare. “Do not act as a git with me, Miss Summers. If you recall I have an astute understanding of your true mental worth as I was the one to administer your aptitude and intelligence quotient tests while you were my patient.”

Her arms crossed and Buffy eased away from the stove as she inclined her head and snapped back, “Yeah, because my parents thought me mentally challenged, but were hoping for a learning disability.”

“Your parents cared enough—”

“To lock me up?” The tightness in her shoulders was back and Buffy shook her head, offered, after her waspish interruption, “I’m sorry. It’s just, that’s not the memory of my parents I want to cherish, ya know?”

A slight dip of a square chin was Buffy’s only answer as Primrose calmly handed her the notebook and motioned her aside as she opened one of the many cupboards lining the walls and pulled down a small opaque jar, setting it beside the stove. She poured the water from kettle to pot and with quick, efficient movements she blotted out the inside of the kettle before opening the jar and a drawer beside the stove. There was the shuffle of silverware before she removed a measuring spoon and scooped out two teaspoons of a dry and crumbling plant.

Buffy’s nose wrinkled with the faint, though not unpleasant, scent of ash and wood and her brows rose as Primrose added the water back to the kettle and set a digital timer. Her head inclined with the process that went into making a cup a tea as she toyed with one of the frayed edges of the notebook. Primrose turned, hands still cupping the timer as she looked to Buffy and frowned, gaze dropping to the notebook.

“So what’s with the vacant stare a few minutes ago?” Buffy lifted the notebook to emphasize her point as she added, “What’s in here that made you all non-verbal?”

A hand rose to rub gentle circles along the bridge of Primrose’s nose, her eyes falling closed as she gave a tight pinch, paling the skin before her hand fell away and she stated, “Most of the symbols, while crude, resemble protective characters.”

Buffy’s head cocked as the scent of wood-smoke grew stronger as the tea steeped and she offered, “I kinda figured.”

“Protective characters meant to ward off humans and the angelic.”

“Oh,” the slight tingle in her cheeks let Buffy know they were paling and she really wished Primrose had chairs in her kitchen as she gazed at her, slightly stunned.

“Precisely.”

“I shouldn’t have been able to open it.”

“Perhaps,” Primrose took a hesitant step forward, “or perhaps you’re remembering the symbols incorrectly.”

“A good, solid theory,” she gave a broken laugh as her stomach tightened, “let’s stick with that one.”

“Buffy—”

“I’m human,” she shook her head, reiterated softly, but vehemently, “I am human!”

“Of course you are. Don’t be—”

Buffy interrupted her, voice trembling, “Uriel called me tainted,” she paused, frowned, “actually he referred to me as tainted. He’d have to actually talk to me to call me something.”

“Then Uriel is a fool and you twice as much for weighing his opinion more than your own.” She blinked, startled by Primrose’s quiet counterargument and before she could hazard a response the ex-Watcher was already continuing with, “I can not fathom why you would listen to a being whose whole purpose seems to be focused on the mockery of humanity.”

Buffy simply stared at her quietly a moment before a slow smile curled the edge of her mouth as she offered, simply, “You rock.”

“Well of course I do.” The timer chirped and Primrose turned away from Buffy and their moment of understanding to place an infuser over one of the mugs and slowly poured the tea. The scent of wood-smoke grew stronger and Buffy moved closer, coming to stand beside Primrose as the other woman switched the infuser, now covered in bits of dark, wet plant, to the other mug and repeated the process.

Her curiosity got the better of her and Buffy decided to refocus on the present and questioned, “Does it taste like it smells?”

A slow lift of Primrose’s shoulder accompanied her turn back to the stove as she deposited the kettle before she turned back to Buffy. “Some believe it to be a bit tarry, but I find the scent and taste quite relaxing.”

“Huh.” Buffy accepted the mug she was offered and hesitated a moment, watching Primrose take the first sip before following her example. The first taste that registered was salty and her nose wrinkled before it relaxed as the more subtle, smoky tones took effect and she swallowed, the taste lingering on her tongue. “It makes me want s’mores.”

Her response must have been a good one because Primrose sent her a smile that made the lines around her eyes gather in more subtle, attractive way. “I might have the makings of those somewhere in these pantries.”

Buffy took another sip and made a content sound as she moved back toward the kitchen table to lay down her notebook and sit in front of the Colt Paterson. Primrose followed her over, taking the seat Buffy had previously and pulled the notebook back towards her. “What is this?”

She raised the mug to clarify as Primrose raised her gaze and smiled. “It’s called Lapsang Souchong.”

“And it always tastes like a campfire smells?”

“When it’s properly smoke-dried, yes.”

“Nifty.”

Primrose shook her head and refocused on the notebook, turning back and forth between Buffy’s original notes and her more focused drawings. Buffy settled back in her chair, lifting the mug two handed to her face to take a few more sips as she watched the ex-Watcher dissect and analyze her work. A heavy, but not uncomfortable silence, settled around them and Buffy welcomed the sedated calm after having spent the better part of the night ignoring Doyle’s ogling while being equal parts amused and annoyed by it.

It was nice to have a guy notice her, a guy that knew where she’d been and what she’d been through and didn’t see her as damaged goods. It was also a bit distracting when she was attempting to focus on a shot or his explanation of why her newest fake ID was of a Los Angeles detective named Kate Lockley. She was more than certain there was a story behind that, but she didn’t have the time or the inclination to figure it out this trip.

A yawn worked its way up from the back of her throat and Buffy winced, mouth stretching as she lifted a hand to cover it and the watering of her eyes as she muffled it. Blinking rapidly to clear her vision she noticed Primrose’s amused look and ducked her head to hide her blush as she explained, “Nine hours on the road,” she added a hopeful note to her voice as she prompted, “any chance I steal your couch for the night?”

Her amused look stretched into a smile as Primrose stood and motioned Buffy to follow her. With a shrug and still carrying her tea Buffy did as requested and let the ex-Watcher lead her down the narrow hall toward the living room and she turned, heading back toward the bathroom and Primrose’s bedroom and storage rooms. She paused at the door to one of the rooms that had been filled with artifacts and boxes during Buffy’s previous visit and green eyes widened as the door opened to reveal a spacious interior filled with a bed and a few pieces of furniture.

“I thought, since you might come through once and awhile that I might offer you a more comfortable place to sleep,” she added, voice hesitant, “whenever you need it.”

The tears brimming Buffy’s lashes, that had nothing to do with yawns, were blinked back as she looked around the simply furnished room. “I…” her voice drifted off as she moved deeper into the room and noticed two framed photos on the nightstand beside the bed. She moved toward them, struck silent, and a little dumb, by the photo of her, Willow and Xander taken their junior year. They were smiling, hopeful and bright and she really needed to call Xander to catch up. Her gaze shifted toward the second frame and her throat tightened as her knees gave out and she sat on the bed. The down comforter absorbing her weight and she ignored the nagging voice, whispering too soft, too nice and the every present subtle feeling that this world was going to fall away, leaving her bare and defenseless in hell again.

The hand holding the mug tensed and she quickly placed it beside the photo of herself, small and young, in her parents’ embrace as they, her family, smiled up at the person taking the picture. She turned, met Primrose’s neutral gaze with her tear filled one and asked, “How?”

“Your vampire is quite the resourceful one.”

“Angel?” She turned back to nightstand and its memories and she smiled, the tightness in her throat easing as she rose and offered Primrose a tired smile. “Thank you.”

“You should thank him.”

Buffy couldn’t ignore the panicked dive her stomach took with the thought of seeing Angel again, of hearing his voice and her spine stiffened, shoulders rolling back as she stated, “I will.”

“Good.”

~*~

“You think she’s the one we’re looking for?”

Bobby made a discouraging sound and shifted the phone tighter to his ear as he adjusted the frying pan on the stove. “Hell if I know,” he turned the heat from five to three before adding, “She’s smart, well trained and likes to make up words every other sentence so half the time I’m not even sure I know what she’s talking about.”

“Ruby mentioned,” Bobby didn’t bother to mention his lack of trust for Ruby and let Sam finish the thought, “it was a female hunter that got to the Colt before she did.”

The hand holding his stirring spoon paused in turning the sauce as his voice lowered toward a growl and he asked, “What about the Colt?”

“I didn’t tell you?”

“Would I be asking had you?”

There was an uncomfortable pause where Bobby could hear Sam shift uneasily, the bench seat of the Impala giving an uneven groan with his movement. “A few weeks—”

“A few weeks?”

Bobby’s skeptical interruption had him sighing and amending, “Back in October Ruby traced the Colt to a safe house guarded by what she called harbingers of the apocalypse.”

The comforting sounds of dinner cooking faded to white noise as Bobby was quiet a moment, digesting that tidbit of information and on autopilot he added salt to the pot of just about boiling water and lowered the heat on the red sauce to two. He noticed Sam’s slight hitch in breathing and took pity on the younger man by muttering, “Harbingers, huh.” Sam made a noise of agreement and a sudden insight had Bobby prompting, “As in the Four Horsemen?”

There was another groan of protest as Sam shifted, more than likely forward, as he stated, “She said Death bit it, but I thought…” he trailed off and Bobby added the noodles to the now boiling water, waiting for Sam to finally speak up again. “The Four Horsemen? They can be killed?”

“How many of the seven deadly did we off?” Bobby didn’t wait for an answer and finished his point, “I was in contact with another hunter prompting me for info about the horsemen around that time. That same hunter introduced me to Anne.”

Sam was quiet a beat before he asked, voice dipping lower which to Bobby meant Dean was heading back toward the car. “So she is the one we’re looking for.”

He snorted, “I’ll say it once and I’ll say it again, Sam. Hell if I know, but I do know is that I want a face to face with this Anne,” he grunted and stirred the pasta, “Harder to con a conman when it’s in person.”

“You think it’s a con?”

“Honestly?” Bobby sighed and added more salt to the boiling water and noodles. “I haven’t a clue. So far she seems on the level and anything she’s mentioned or referenced has checked out, but it seems a little too easy.”

A short bark of laughter escaped Sam. “Months of research and tracking someone down is easy?”

“One person outta how many billion?” He answered the rhetorical question with, “Yeah, it’s been easy.”

“Point.” Sam paused before stating, “Some of the other hunters that have run into her have mentioned a scar.” There was a longer, quieter pause and Bobby heard the driver’s side door of the Impala open and Sam rushed the last bit under his breath, “like Dean’s.”

“Yeah, well, some of the other hunters gossip like biddies.”

“You don’t believe it.”

“I’ll believe it, and in her, when I see’em with my own two eyes.”

“Alright. Gotta run.”

“Don’t be a stranger. The either of you. And don’t get y’erselves killed savin’ that girl.”

The line went dead and Bobby took a moment to frown at the black receiver before placing it back on its holder. A hand rose, lifting his ‘gimme’ cap up and he absently scratched at the back of his head before replacing the cap and turning away from the stove a moment to snag his Miller and take a quick pull that did little to calm the un-eased feeling in his gut. He flicked off the burner on the sauce as it began to more than simmer and he continued to frown, the line between his brows deepening, as he studied the red speckled stovetop.

Anne’s newest email had included a series of hand sketched images and a quick note asking him for any and all sheddings of light he could offer—her words, not his—and he couldn’t help but feel like there was a hurried edge to her plea. One or two he’d recognized right away, but the others had him wishing Pamela still had her eyesight and that he was at home with all his resources. His stomach sank and twisted with that thought before he took another pull of Miller and went about finishing the makings of his meal with a muttered, “Son of a bitch.”

~*~

Screams echoed the lightning, a perverse form of thunder as Buffy swallowed her own, tampered it down as the polychrome clouds above and below her filled with the effervescent light that, for a brief moment, was terribly beautiful. She shut her eyes, blood coated lashes pressed tight to her cheeks as another down the line shrieked and turned, struggling to free themselves and their movements, their stupidity jerked her own chains and the hook piercing her shoulder torqued, dug deeper and her collarbone popped, bringing forth a new white hot wash of pain.

“Fuck!” Her muttered curse sprayed her face with blood and she swallowed the need to curl around the wound. Kept herself straight as another screamed out their own protests and the hook sank deeper, pulled her down further and stretched the skin of her chest and throat. Something hard in her throat gave with a brittle sound and her ability to breathe vanished. Green eyes opened, head flung back in a silent scream as the smaller bits of steel burrowed beneath the tender flesh of her inner thigh fell away and the larger hook piercing her abdomen wretched free leaving a gaping whole.

She was weightless, she was free and just as suddenly she was falling.

Tumbling through the chains and smoke, slipping past the damned and lightning, her hair whipping away from her face as she lost her fear and simply allowed herself to fall, welcomed the brief reprieve and just as she accepted this, the falling, she stopped. Her body impacted a far too solid surface, cratering it and she felt her body shatter, break, but she was still conscious, still aware.

A cough shuddered her slim frame as a shadow descended over her, cool hands pushing back the loose strands of hair as they knelt at her side and cupped her shoulders, pulling her free of the shallow crevice holding her. Her head lulled back, falling to the side, her neck broken and useless, as they whispered, “Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris.”

Buffy jerked upright, eyes wide and searching the quiet room as she struggled to breathe and clutched the down comforter to her chest. She felt the erratic beat of her heart pounding sharply against her ribcage before she covered her sweat-slick face with trembling hands. Her hands slid down to bridge her nose and her heavy breathing echoed through the small opening they made as she fought off the sudden onslaught of nausea.

Her hands fell away from her face and she pressed them down into her lap, clenched them to stop their shaking. She forced her breathing to slow and stared blankly at the closed door in front of her and ignored the night outside her window. She allowed herself a heartfelt, “fuck,” muttered quietly before she shook her head and closed her eyes. Faust filled the darkness in her head and she thrust them open and the sheets from her damp body.

One leg slipped free of the sheets, toes curling with the slight cold of the tiled floor before Buffy pulled her other leg free. She settled herself on the edge of the bed, arms rising to curl around her stomach as she blinked at the digital numbers telling her it was ten past three in the morning. Her gaze slid past the clock to the image of family when it had still been whole, when she’d still been a part of it and then to the photo of her, Xander and Willow. Green eyes dipped, narrowed on her cell phone tucked between the two images of her past and the spiraling white dial, on its tiny screen, that told her she had a message.

Buffy reached forward, damp fingers smearing the smooth surface of the screen as she brought her phone to life and flooded the dark room with muted light. She blinked against the sudden onslaught, squinting as she pulled up her voicemail and kept the phone on speaker. Her thumb jabbed the number one key and she skipped the phone number calling her, brows rising when the actual message began with a muffled sob.

“Buffy,” her brows shot up, concern slicing through her with Willow’s feeble statement of her name as she repeated it, “Buffy, there’s been an accident,” she leaned forward with Willow’s slight pause, stomach opening, “It’s-it’s Cordelia, Buffy, Cordy got hurt and it’s all my fault, I-I hurt her, me and Xander and now I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to fix it, please, call me, please, Buffy,” there was another pause, her voice dipping towards meek as she added one last, “please,” before disconnecting.

Panic spiked through her as she disconnected from her messages and speed dialed Willow, her right heel beating an irregular pattern against the tile as it rang. It rang, and rang, and rang until Willow’s overly chirp filled tone prompted her to leave a message. “You have got to be kidding me!” Buffy snarled the words at her phone as she disconnected and tried Cordelia, twice, with much of the same results. She sprang to her feet and switched the phone to her left hand as she dialed Faith and began to pace the confines of the room.

It rang, “Come on, come on,” and rang, “come on!”

“B?”

The trembling in her hands slowed with the familiar raspy tone. “Faith? What the hell is going on?”

“Woah, B. Calm it. We’re all good here.”

The hand grasping the cell phone tensed. “Willow called. Said something happened to Cordelia,” she kept her words as statements of fact rather than pleading with Faith to just tell her.

Faith was, apparently, psychic—or heard the desperation in Buffy’s voice—and quickly explained, “Yeah, she took a rebar to the chest, but she’s decent. Doc said she lost some blood, but she’ll be up and annoying the shit outta me, and everyone else, in no time,” there was a pause before she added, “But you might want to head this way if you can.”

“I can be there by dawn.”

~*~

Sunlight streamed in through the high placed windows at Buffy’s back, flooding the small waiting room with light and creating a rather obnoxious glare on the television mounted on the wall across from her. Not that she was watching anything of particular interest as she waited for eight o’clock, visiting hours, to come and the doctors and nurses to allow her in to actually see Cordelia rather than listen to their overly calm responses to her inquiries. She shifted in the small plastic seat and turned, flipping through the stack of extremely old, old enough that she could have read them before her stint in hell, magazines before giving up with a sigh and leaning back in her chair.

Her body slid down, jean-covered legs uncrossing as she slouched and absently tapped her thumb ring against the metal arms of the chair. The scuffed toe of her lace-up, knee-high boots soon joined the beat as she glanced at the clock for the hundredth time in the last half hour and glared at the second hand as it continued its sluggish pace. She had contemplated hitting Willow’s before the hospital after she’d reached Faith and Dormer’s and been informed of what had transpired the night before, but had then thought better of it and headed straight for Cordelia.

Of the two friends—though Buffy wasn’t entirely sure Cordelia could be considered a friend—she’d chosen the more wounded party. She sighed, shifting again and wondering when Willow and Xander had joined cheaters anonymous, not that they were anonymous now, or if it had been a one time, passion in the face of death thing. She really, really hoped it was the latter of the two scenarios because her best friends had never struck her as the unfaithful type. Hell, she’d always thought them too faithful for sticking by her rather than running for their lives like her Hemery friends had when they’d discovered the truth about her and what really went on after dark.

Uncomfortable with her current train of thought Buffy shoved herself from the rows of seats along the wall and began to pace the narrow room. Her boots, which she’d picked up at a Salvation Army in New Orleans, were noiseless against the linoleum as she made her way towards the wall filled with informative medical posters before she swung around and made her way back toward the wall housing the only door in or out. A hand rose, catching the back of her neck and dragged its way across and down, disturbing the long chain holding the badge she’d just gotten from Doyle the night before.

She adjusted the badge and ID telling the hospital staff she was Detective Kate Lockley, the only way she was going to be allowed in to see Cordelia while she was in intensive care. She adjusted the collar of her double-breast plaid peacoat, another thrift store find, before her hand slipped down to brush at the jeans she’d worn that had seen better days, days in which a nasty voodoo spirit hadn’t been fixated on sending her ass back to hell.

In the last few stress-filled months Buffy had learned the internal workings of devil’s traps, angels were kind of dick-like and the joys of swearing. Dropping the f-bomb, of which her mother would not approve, did wonders for her when she was ready to burst and didn’t have a demon or vampire readily available to pummel. Thoughts of her mother stopped Buffy in her stride back towards the medical posters and had her blinking rapidly and telling herself she had a wayward eyelash—in both eyes—as she looked up toward the florescent lighted ceiling.

“Detective Lockley?” Buffy spun, forcing a pleasant smile to her face as she moved toward the entrance of the waiting room where a rather attractive doctor inclined his head and offered her his hand, “Doctor Collins, but you can call me Gregory.”

She accepted his handshake with a rising of her brows and made it a point to refer to him by his title, “Doctor Collins, how is Miss Chase?”

A line appeared between his brows before it smoothed and he slowly released her hand as he answered with, “She’s stable. She lost a substantial amount of blood, but none of her vitals were punctured. Visits to her will be restricted while she’s in the ICU and I’d actually prefer it if you could come back at a later time,” his head inclined as he offered, “Perhaps tomorrow afternoon?”

Buffy shook her head, felt her ponytail slip into the collar of her jacket to tickle the back of her neck as she stated, “I can’t. I’ll be on my way back to L.A. by then,” she paused, considering, “I could come back later today if she’s still not conscious, but I’d prefer to meet with her sooner rather than later.”

“Detective Lockley, Miss Chase has already been through a terrible ordeal—”

She interrupted him, “Of that I’m well aware, Doctor Collins, hence my being here.”

“Of course,” his dark brows rose towards the widows peak of his hairline as he continued, “Would you care to explain to me why Miss Chase needs to be questioned?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed with his condescending tone and replied, “I’m not at liberty to discuss an ongoing investigation,” suddenly thankful for those long afternoons with Willow and Xander watching Law and Order as she finished with, “Now may I see Miss Chase, please?”

The please had been more of an afterthought and it showed as the doctor inhaled slowly, the nostrils of his aristocratic nose flaring before his chin dropped in agreement. “Right this way.” He stepped to the side, inviting Buffy to follow him from the waiting room and led her down a windowed hallway and past a nurses’ station and the few loitering around it raised a brow at their passing.

They reached a pair of metal doors painted white and red and Doctor Collins turned, made a generic motion towards one of the nurses who reached forward and tapped a button. The doors in front of Buffy hissed and groaned, yawning their way open and the doctor once again took the lead. She lengthened her stride to catch up with his and he turned his head, addressing her, “If you don’t mind me asking,” Buffy didn’t get why someone would open with that phrase when they knew the person in question would mind and she blinked, only half tuning in as he prompted, “You seem a bit young to be a detective.”

All traces of pleasantness left her as Buffy shot him a glare out of the corner of her eye, purposely mistaking his statement as a come-on and snapped, “This is neither the time nor the place for flirtation, Doctor Collins.”

His stride stumbled and Buffy paused, arms coming up to cross beneath her breasts as she continued to treat him to a narrow-eyed stare as he cleared his throat. “I-I didn’t mean—”

“Precisely. Let’s keep you and your lack of meaning far from me and Miss Chase until I have finished with my interview.” Her chin thrust forward, gaze locking with his as she silently dared him to contradict her.

He blinked, blue eyes shifting past her as he broke the connection first and Buffy felt the corner of her mouth tug with her slight accomplishment before he stated, voice less certain than it had been, “She’s the second door from the end on the left.”

Buffy kept her tone even as she stated, “Thank you,” before she spun on the thick sole of her boot and stalked down the hall. She waited until she was several feet from the doctor before allowing her smirk to deepen the curved line of her mouth until she drew closer to Cordelia’s room and her stride slowed, face slipping into a blank mask as she moved to fill the open doorway.

Her hand rose, formed a fist and she rapped it against the doorframe and watched the dark head of hair currently propped up on numerous pillows shift, turning towards her and she smiled as Cordelia’s hazel eyes widened and stated, “Hey, Cordy.”

“Buffy?”

Her voice was soft, weak and she shifted, a wince working its way across her features as she did so and Buffy moved swiftly into the room and to her side. “Try not to move. Here.” she turned grabbing the only chair and moved it closer to the bed.

Perfectly shaped brows dipped down toward the bridge of her nose as she stated, “I was told a detective was coming to interview me.” Her gaze dipped as Buffy lifted the chain around her neck and flashed the badge at her and Cordelia rolled her eyes, “Right.”

Buffy lifted a shoulder and let it fall before asking, “Aside from taking a rebar to the chest, how are you?”

Those brows of hers rose sharply. “Anyone ever tell you, you suck at bedside manner?”

“Have you met you?”

A snort hunched Cordelia’s shoulders and she winced, eyes shut tight as she gasped and tensed, her stomach muscles tightening and she pushed herself deeper into her pillows. “God, don’t make me laugh.”

“I wasn’t trying to,” Buffy stated as she stood and adjusted the pillows Cordelia had shifted in her sudden movement. She ignored the curious and confused look she was receiving through Cordelia’s lashes as the other girl kept her eyes slit while Buffy made her more comfortable before prompting, “Better?”

“Yeah,” Cordelia hesitated before offering, “Thanks.”

Buffy accepted her slight appreciation with another shrug before fixing her with a searching look. “So how are you?”

Her mouth thinned, hazel eyes narrowing before she groused, “Shouldn’t you be asking Jo-Jo the dog-faced girl that as she cries into your bony shoulder?” Buffy raised her brows and crossed her arms, more amused than offended by the venomous response to her inquiry. There was a moment of silence before Cordelia sagged further into her pillows and sent her considering gaze over Buffy and her ensemble. A line appeared between her brows before she conceded, “You’ve put on weight,” and offered, “I take back the bony, but not the rest of it. Why are you here? The last time I checked you and I weren’t besties.”

“No, we’re not,” Buffy agreed.

“So what’s the sitch? Shouldn’t you be off comforting Miss She-Who-Kisses-Other’s-Boyfriends?”

Buffy blinked, frowned. “That was a mouthful.”

“I’m thinking of shortening it to lip-slut.” Cordelia swallowed as she shifted and eased her body further down the bed, making herself more comfortable against her pillows. “Seriously though, why are you here?”

“We’re not friends, not really, I know.” Buffy’s chin dipped and she ignored Cordelia’s snark of ‘understatement’ under her breath and shot her a quick glare from beneath her lashes before offering, “But if I have to chose between being with a friend that screwed over someone and the someone I care about getting screwed,” she paused, lifted her head and added, “Well, that’s a no-brainer,” her lips spread into a grin as she finished with, “even for you.”

“Did you just insult me? Me? Who just got out of surgery six hours ago?”

“Yeah,” Buffy quirked a brow with Cordelia’s thinly veiled outrage, “It’s what we do. We insult one another.”

“You’re damn right we do.” The weakness in her voice gave way to something stronger as she snarled, “I am Cordelia Chase and I am not someone who’s going to be coddled.” She titled her head so that she was looking down at Buffy, which was impressive since she was lying down and Buffy was standing, and snapped, “Especially not by a freak of nature like you.”

“There she is.”

“Oh shut up.”

Buffy smirked and retook her seat, pulling it closer still in the hopes that it would invite Cordelia to go back to her softer tone and wouldn’t strain herself too much, too soon. “Want to tell me what happened?”

Her chin lifted and she turned her head away from Buffy, looking towards the ceiling. “Don’t you already know everything? Isn’t that why you’re here?”

“Thought you might want to the chance to vent.”

There was a moment of silence before she explained in short, clipped sentences, “Willow and Xander went missing. Oz and I went looking. We found them,” she paused, voice wavering before Cordelia swallowed and embellished with, “Found them on top of each other. I ran. I fell. I got hurt. The end.” She blinked rapidly and Buffy ignored the tears she saw leak out the corners of Cordelia’s eyes and slip down to merge with her hairline as she added, “So unless you’re willing to kick Mr. Faithful’s ass for me, I’m not sure why you’re here.”

“Yes, you are.” Buffy watched Cordelia’s head turn and she met her angry gaze head-on. “I came to make sure you were good because—”

“You care?”

The acidic tone to Cordelia’s interruption didn’t surprise her, it was the fact that she was right and Buffy’s voice mirrored this discovery as she stated, “I do,” and she paused, taking in Cordelia’s startled expression and added, “Huh.”

“No need to sound so shocked about it.”

The snap to her tone was slipping away and Buffy watched Cordelia’s lashes dip before she forced them back open and Buffy rose. “I think I should head out. Let you rest. I’ll be back though.”

“Is that a threat?”

Buffy’s mouth quirked with the tired question and the fact that Cordelia could be insulting even while about to pass out. “Maybe,” she hesitated, frowned and made her statement a question, “We don’t hug?”

Dark brows tugged down and Cordelia shot her another glare. “I’m not into the touchy feely.”

“That’s not what the football team says.”

One brow rose. “And you would know what the football team says how, Little Miss I’m Dead?”

“Oz told me,” Buffy flashed her a quick smile as she headed toward the door, “You know how he loves to over-share.”

“Buffy?” She turned in the doorway, inclining her head towards Cordelia who searched her face a moment before stating, “Thanks for making me first.”

“You’re welcome,” Buffy nodded before adding, “You know you can call me once and awhile. To talk,” she paused, smirked, “or mock. Whatever.”

Hazel eyes rolled even as Cordelia settled deeper into the pillows and stated, “I’m pretty sure I didn’t delete your number.”

“That was sweet of you.”

“It was.” Cordelia’s lashes dipped again, her voice losing more of its biting edge as she stated, “I should really get a humanitarian award for befriending you losers.”

Buffy waited a moment, watched Cordelia’s head lull to the side and her body sag as the tension left her and she lost her battle against sleep. She shook her head and smiled before turning to leave and muttered, “I’d vote for you.”

“Damn right you would.” Buffy tensed, head snapping back toward the bed and the small smile, the first smile she’d seen, curved Cordelia’s mouth upwards and Buffy laughed.

~*~

The knife fell with the repetitive ‘thwack’ of blade meeting cutting board as Faith worked her way through a cucumber. Creating semi-equal sized slices before dividing her small pile into equal parts as Buffy continued to raid the refrigerator for more components to their lunch-time salads. Though in Buffy’s estimation their salads were less salad and more bits of odds and ends mixed together with dressing on top as she snagged the leftover bacon, from the breakfast Dormer had made that morning, and a small container of feta cheese.

She turned, nudged the open door with an elbow and closed it to the sound of rattling condiments. Faith’s head rose from her task of depositing the cucumbers into their already nearly full bowls and quirked her brows as Buffy ducked her head in mild embarrassment. She deposited her newly acquired choices for their quasi-salads and offered the bacon to Faith for slicing as the brown eyes narrowed on the plastic container of feta cheese and pointed at with her knife. “What is that?”

“Feta cheese.”

Her eyes narrowed and then rose to Buffy’s face as she snapped, “I can read,” her gaze dipped back toward the container of white crumbling bits, “I want to know what it is.”

The edge of her thumb slipped between the lid and the container, opening it and snagging one of the bits to pop into her mouth. She smiled as the powder-like substance melted against her tongue before stating, simply, “Goat cheese.”

“Goat cheese?” Faith shook her head and began the quick process of slicing the bacon as she commented, “Keep that the hell outta my bowl.”

“Your loss is my incredible gain.” Buffy smiled and snagged another bit before stating, “So Spike is dust. You slayed Spike.”

“What?” Faith’s tone took on a mocking edge, “Like it was hard?”

“Funny.” Buffy rolled her eyes before lifting the container of feta and sprinkling some over her bowl. “Smartassness aside,” she quirked a brow, “Spike wasn’t Johnny Easy to Kill the last time he rolled through town.”

Her voice trailed off and Buffy waited, expectantly, for Faith to take up the story of the death of her could have been nemesis had he actually had a—you know— feasible plan once and awhile. The blade stopped its steady seesaw against the cutting board and Faith added the bacon to the bowls before starting with, “Billy Idol told me where Xander and Willow were,” she paused and winced, adding under her breath, “Not that I needed to be told apparently,” with a shake of her head she refocused, “Once I had that info there really wasn’t a reason not to slay his ass.”

Buffy watched Faith reach forward, snag the ranch dressing from the center of the island they were currently gathered around and add a liberal amount to her bowl of food. With a shake of her head she followed Faith’s example and grabbed the balsamic vinaigrette to add to her own before commenting, “He was creative in a fight.”

There was a sharp dip of Faith’s chin as she nodded her agreement and turned, opening a drawer and pulled out two forks before offering one to Buffy. “He was wicked creative. I’ve got the bruises to prove it,” she paused, frowned, “I am confused as to who sent the other vamps after him though.”

Buffy accepted the fork and inclined her head. “That is a bit sense lacking.”

“Exactly,” Faith grabbed her bowl and motioned Buffy to follow her from the kitchen. “I mean I get revenge and all that, but they seemed to have an agenda other than just kicking Spike’s ass.” They made their way past the stairs and down the carpeted hallway to the living room and their drinks. Faith settled herself on the lounge that Buffy had slept on more than once before finishing with, “And after the whole band candy thing last month it feels like I’m missing the bigger picture, ya know?”

“Yeah,” Buffy nodded and took up her spot on the sofa, careful to keep her bowl steady as she settled herself and added, “Did the vamps mention anything? Like a boss or something?”

Her brow quirked and Faith shook her head. “You see that would be good luck.”

A slow smile spread Buffy’s lips in understanding of Faith’s plight. “That I understand.”

“There’s gotta be something else going on. I mean the assassins at Homecoming, the band candy, these aren’t random acts. Someone’s gotta be pulling strings.”

“You’re not wrong.” Buffy frowned and shifted, a thought nagging along the edge of her consciousness as she took her first bite of bacon covered cucumber. Chewing absently she tried to focus on why she had the random thought of Principal Snyder and swallowed, her memory still a little hazy when it came to the unimportant people in her life before hell.

“Have you talked to Willow yet?”

Faith’s hesitant question between bites pulled Buffy out of her thoughts and back into the present conversation. A shrug of her right shoulder lifted her fork from the bowl as she stated, “No, not yet. She’s classes bound at the moment.”

“Right,” there was a pause and another bite before Faith asked, her hand covering her mouth, “And Cordelia? How’s she doin’?”

“Better than most.” Buffy smiled, recalling their conversation before adding, “It’s Cordy, she’ll bounce back.”

“Yeah. She’s resilient like a cockroach.”

Buffy snorted and dug through her bowl for a piece of boiled egg. “You know what they say? If you see one roach there are hundreds more.”

“Hundreds of Cordelias? Now that’s just freakin’ scary.” Faith paused, looked at the wide screen of the television for a moment, lost in thought, before shaking her head and offering, “I know Cordelia is annoying as shit, but damn, I didn’t think Xander, or Willow, would do that to her.”

“Or Oz.”

Faith nodded in agreement with Buffy’s quiet addition and stabbed her fork downward into her bowl before stating, “This is why monogamy blows.”

“This is?” Buffy questioned with a rising of her brows.

“Yes.” Faith lifted her fork and a cherry tomato from her bowl and frowned at them. “Get some, get gone.”

“Interesting motto.”

She pulled the tomato from the fork with her teeth and took a moment to chew and swallow before stating, “It keeps me sane.”

Buffy flinched before offering, “Isn’t that what Willow was doing?”

Brown eyes narrowed and Faith made another stab at her quasi-salad. “Yeah. Which I just don’t get.”

“You and me both.”

Her shoulders lifted and fell with a sigh before she pulled out a bit of boiled egg with her fork and lifted her head. Buffy watched the smile that curved the right side of Faith’s mouth and shifted, suddenly nervous with that look as the brunette leaned forward and stated, “I was thinking—”

“Which is never good.” Buffy hid her own smile behind another bite of cucumber as the look Faith shot her clearly told her to shut it.

“My eighteenth is next month and I was thinking,” she paused for the smart comment that didn’t come before finishing with, “You could try to head this way and you and me could hit L.A. for the weekend. I already passed it by Dormer and she seemed cool with it.”

“That idea has potential.” Buffy’s smile widened at the thought that she might have something other than the apocalypse to look forward to.

“So I should make plans?”

“I’m thinking yes.”

“Sweet.” Faith jabbed her fork down, clinking it against the bottom of her bowl and pulled out a chunk of ham. Her tone was wistful as she added, “I’m gonna miss my jailbait days.”

~*~

A metallic whine accompanied Buffy’s rocking as she leaned the high-backed chair away from the large desk spanning the wall of the principal’s office farthest from the door. Balancing herself on one toe she propped her boot covered foot onto said desk, knocking the bloater askew, before lifting her other foot up and crossed her legs at the ankles. Her body sank deeper into the plush chair as she intertwined her fingers and propped her hands on her stomach as she awaited the end of the faculty meeting just two doors down.

Her head cocked, the wisps of blonde hair that had escaped her pony tail shifted with the abrupt movement, as she listened, unable to make out anything distinct from the quiet chatter. Not that she would have found anything particularly interesting about the meeting. It would have just given her something to do other than watch the clock on the wall closest to the door move with a glacial pace towards the next minute. She shifted, leaning forward to pick at a loose thread from the laced-up boots her jeans were currently tucked into and absently wished for a lighter to singe the offending thread away.

The quiet chatter turned into louder voices as the door to the small conference room was opened and Buffy stopped toying with the thread and looked up, watched a few teachers pass in front of the windows of the office. She smiled and leaned back, letting the chair rock with her body’s movement as she took up her casual pose again as Snyder moved to stand in front of his office door. The thin, nasal sound of his voice slid toward condescending as he berated the guidance counselor for caring too much.

Green eyes narrowed and annoyed tension began to tighten the muscles in Buffy’s shoulders as she listened to Snyder compare the student body to mulch. Her jaw tightened, thrusting forward as her hands tensed, the knuckles paling while she waited for him to shut up and just come into his damn office already. The second hand made it around the clock several more times before he finally stopped in his display of loathing and allowed Mr. Platt to leave.

Buffy rolled her eyes before sinking further into the chair as the doorknob twisted, opening the door and Snyder stepped through, head down and gaze intent on the stack of colored flyers in his arms. He shut the door behind him, rattling the blinds covering the windows, and made his way past the filing cabinets and bookshelves lining opposite walls towards his desk and Buffy. Glossed lips spread wider as she watched him ease between the two chairs stationed in front of his desk before dropping the stack of papers on it.

Thick brows lowered from his vastly receding hairline as he finally noticed her worn boots propped on his desk and pale eyes narrowed before they lifted. “Hiya, Principal Snyder,” her soft greeting had those pale eyes widening as he stumbled back from the desk and over one of the chairs set in front of it. His polished loafers caught on one of the legs and it spilled him on his ass, forcing him to crabwalk the rest of his retreat.

Buffy arched a brow and let her legs fall from the desk with a thud as they struck the carpeted floor and she rose, moving swiftly around the desk and toward the, once upon a time, bane of her existence. She caught up to him next to the bookshelves and gripped the lapels of his cheap suit. “S-Summers?”

She smiled at the stammer in his voice and lifted him easily to his feet, propping him against the bookshelf before attempting to straighten the wrinkles she’d put in the lines of his jacket. “How’ve you been?”

He flinched back from her touch. “You-you’re dead.”

A pointed chin dipped. “I was,” her head cocked and she leaned into him, enjoying the tightening around his eyes and mouth with her close proximity and finished with, “Isn’t it funny how dead things in Sunnydale always come back to bite you on the ass?”

His gaze shifted, taking in the sunlight flittered by his wooden blinds, but still flooding the room with a muted glow. “It’s day.”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed with the certainty in his voice before she acknowledged, “It is.”

“S-so you’re not a-a-a…” he trailed off and swallowed tightly, adam’s apple bobbing with the movement.

“A what?”

His pale eyes narrowed and he took a step to the side, moving away from her and closer to his desk as Buffy stepped back, letting him. “You know what.”

“Do I?” Her arms rose, crossing beneath her breasts as she gazed at him, a mock-confused line appearing between her brows. “I don’t think I know nearly enough. Like why you’d call someone after expelling me and tell them you had good news for the mayor.”

His back stiffened, thin hands rising to straighten his wrinkled suit as he managed to muster a glare. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

“I think you do.”

“So?” those pale eyes narrowed, “even if I did know something, and I’m not saying I do, I certainly wouldn’t tell you.”

“I think you would,” Buffy took a step forward, watched him flinch against his desk and smiled, “I think you’re gonna.”

He took another step the side and turned, reaching for the phone on his desk and Buffy lunged, caught the white contraption and yanked it away, tossing it behind her to crash against the wall. He gave a nervous laugh and moved around the desk before prompting, “Is that supposed to be a threat? Are you threatening me?” He inclined his head, small mouth turning upwards at the corners as he came to a realization and stated, voice certain, “You’re one of the good guys. So all you can do is threaten. I have nothing to fear from you, but a few broken appliances. So please,” he motioned to rest of his office, “feel free.”

Buffy laughed and even to her it sounded broken as she followed him in his retreat, forcing Snyder to move further from the false safety of his desk and into the corner of his office. He slipped behind the California flag and Buffy shoved it to the side, knocking it and a fake Ficus down in the process as she told Snyder the truth as she saw it, “I think my little stint in hell proves I’m not one of the good guys,” her mouth thinned as she conceded, “at least not anymore, and now,” she paused, inclined her head, “now I consider myself more freelance.”

He swallowed again, the muscles in his neck cording as he attempted to lean further back from her and his head struck the wall behind him. “What is it that you think you’re going to do?”

“Me?” she shrugged, “Not sure, but you’re going to tell me all about the mayor and his plans.”

“And if I don’t?”

Buffy’s smile widened and she leaned closer to him, tilting her head so that her breath trickled against his cheek as she stated, voice casual, “Well, first I’ll remove your teeth one by one and make you swallow them. And then,” she paused, watched his adam’s apple bob, “then I’m gonna go looking for them with that rusty exacto knife you have in the top drawer of your desk.” She watched his pale eyes widened before prompting, voice conversational, “How many do you think I’ll find before you either A, die of blood loss or B, tell me about the mayor?”

~*~

Pale hands balled into fists, blunt nails creating crescent-shaped indents in her palm before Anna flexed her fingers, spread them wide and gazed down at her blemished flesh. She watched the blood beneath her skin rush upward, flushing the indents with color as her chin dipped toward her chest, hair spilling forward to crowd her features. Pale green eyes narrowed, leaving their study of her hands to notice the way the sunlight changed the color of her hair, brightened it and she came to the realization that the world was so very different through human eyes.

“Anna?”

Red-tinted brows drew downward before she stated, voice soft, “Yes, Sam.”

Heavy footfalls impacted the earth as Sam drew her into his shadow and her head lifted, presenting him her face as he blocked the sun. His mouth was pulled thin and long and she watched his wide hands reached up, pushed at his hair as it fell into his eyes and tucked it behind his ears before folding himself down into a crouch position in front of her. An angular chin fell with the movement and Anna kept her gaze locked with his concerned one as he struggled a moment to find the right words.

Her head fell to the side and she offered him a faint smile before prompting, “Ask me.”

His gaze moved to the vacant space the Impala had filled before Dean had left to take Pamela home, the psychic being unwilling to remain in the thick of things when the angels had already taken so much from her, and then turned back to Anna. The ring of hazel surrounding his pupils shrank as the pupils spiraled outward and he shifted uneasily, lips rolling inward a moment before he prompted, “With all that you’ve heard did the angels ever mention another person? Someone else that was saved from hell?”

“Someone other than Dean?” Anna watched his body tense as her smile slipped away and she nodded. “Yes, there was.”

“There was?” Excitement crept into Sam’s voice as his weight shifted forward and he leaned closer to Anna. “Do you know who? Their name? Where they are?”

“No,” Anna shook her head and pushed her hands into the dirt beneath her, shoving herself back onto her feet so that she stood over Sam. “No name was ever spoken.”

Sam frowned and stood. “Are you sure?”

“I am.” She turned away from Sam, gazed out at the broken and bent towers of vehicles lining the clearing behind them before offering, “I do know that it’s a woman. A woman who has succeeded in protecting every seal they’ve placed her in front of and yet some of the others refer to her as unworthy.”

“Unworthy?”

Anna heard the confusion in Sam’s tone and turned back to him, met his worried gaze with her calm one as she stated, “She wasn’t supposed to be saved.”

His shoulders rolled back, spine straightening as understanding dawned, “So Castiel—”

“Saved her without permission,” her mouth curved inward, “there might be hope for him yet.”

“Anna,” Sam hesitated, unsure what to ask next as he tried to understand, “why would Castiel save her?”

A shrug lifted her narrow shoulders. “You’d have to ask him, but I’m hoping pity,” her voice softened as she looked past Sam and toward the sky, “Or perhaps he saw something in her worth saving.”

“Does she know?”

Pale lashes lowered as Anna closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t believe so.”

“So they’re using her.” Anna’s head inclined with the frown she could hear in his voice and she opened her eyes and turned, saw the frown for herself and he met her gaze head-on as he asked, “How do I find her?”

“You don’t. Not unless Castiel wants you too.”

“We could help each other. Work together!” Agitation laced Sam’s words and he turned from Anna, “Dean needs someone to…” he trailed off and frowned before sighing, the wide set of his shoulders lifting with the movement before he finished with, “he needs someone.”

“I don’t think she’s that someone.”

A line appeared between his brows and shifted back toward Anna, “Do you know something I don’t?”

Another faint smile curved the line of her mouth. “What I know is that when Dean is ready to talk,” she paused, raised her brows at Sam and stated simply, “listen.”

“Dean—”

“Will be ready when he’s ready,” Anna paused, gazed up at Sam and with great certainty offered, “just be there when he is.”

~*~

A steady breeze toyed with the napkin beneath her buttery croissant as Buffy reached for her over-caffeinated beverage of choice. The iced mocha was lifted and she frowned at the chrome on black design of the laptop, her laptop, that Willow was currently buried behind and ignored the nagging feeling that her best friend was avoiding talking about the big pink elephant in the Espresso Pump. The steady clatter of keys told her that Willow was still attempting to get the built-in webcam to record in something other than night vision green, but it did little to alleviate the trepidation building as her usually babble ready friend remained non-communicative.

Taking another sip of her mocha she waited a moment before offering, her voice soft, “You do know I’m here in a non-judgmental capacity,” she paused, frowned, “right?”

A bit of red hair was exposed along the side of her laptop before Willow finished peeking around the edge at her, brows drawn low and mouth set in a thin line. The steady tapping at her keyboard slowed before Willow sighed and stated, “But you should, judge, I mean. I deserve the judging. I deserve more than judging.”

“Not from me,” Buffy dropped her chin so that she was meeting Willow’s gaze head on as she confirmed, “not ever.”

The fuzzy orange of her sweater became glaring, the sun catching it as Willow’s shoulders lifted in a defeated shrug. “Why did I do it?” The pause that followed the rhetorical question was ignored by Buffy and Willow filled the too long silence with her own hurried response. “I know! Because I’m a huge slut.”

“Willow, you’re not a slut. You are far from the definition of slut.”

“But-but I am! I hurt Oz and hurting him hurts so much,” her voice hiccupped and she paused, catching her breath, “How can I make this right? How do I fix this?”

Buffy watched her features begin to crumble and she rose, moving to take the seat next to Willow rather than across from her. She closed the laptop and pushed it toward the center of the round, high-top table before settling herself and absently tucking a strand of red hair behind Willow’s ear. She turned, pale green eyes wide and glossy with unshed tears and her lower lip trembled as she asked, “Why did I do it?”

“I don’t know,” Buffy glanced around the coffee shop, thankful for the nearly empty lounge, and gave herself a moment to gather her thoughts before turning back to Willow and asking, “Why did you?”

Her lower lip was pulled inward and she worried over it a moment before Willow stated, voice just this side of feeble, “It’s Xander.” Her eyes closed and she shook her head, pulling herself up straighter. “I know, that’s not an excuse or an explanation really—”

Buffy cut off the verbal flogging Willow was about to administer to herself. “It isn’t and it is.” Her best friend looked to her, brows tugging together in confusion and Buffy clarified, “Xander will always have a part of you. That’s a given. It’s up to you to figure out what part of you he has.”

“What if I don’t know?”

“Then you need to figure that out before you talk to Oz.”

“But I want to apologize,” she paused, reconsidered her word choice, “I need to.”

“Haven’t you already done that?”

“Well,” Willow frowned, “yes, but I think I should again and again and again. He needs to know how sorry I am.”

Buffy hesitated, her shoulders rolling back before she offered, voice soft and words blunt, “I think you need him to know how sorry you are.” She waited a moment, let that thought, hopefully, have an impact before asking, “What does Oz want?”

“He said he needed time and,” Willow flinched, “space.” She turned to Buffy who raised her brows at Willow’s questioning look and the redhead sniffled before admitting, “I should give him time.”

“You should.”

“Buffy,” the uncertainty in Willow’s voice had Buffy turning, inclining her head with her name in a go ahead motion that spurned Willow into asking, “Have you ever cheated?”

Her nose wrinkled and she broke eye contact to reach across her laptop for her drink. She caught sight of Willow doing the same out of the corner of her eye as she took a long sip before turning back to her best friend. The pleading look directed her way over the lid of Willow’s mocha had her shoulders dropping as she accepted the question with a nod and another sip.
“In my Hemery days I was…” Buffy trailed off, a line appearing between her brows before she conceded, “I was Cordelia.” She noticed the raising of Willow’s brows and ignored it, focusing on the facts of her short stint at normalcy. “I used boys to further my popularity and if that meant overlapping a breakup and a hookup I didn’t necessarily hesitate in doing so.”

She flinched at the memory of her own shallowness and watched Willow’s head begin a slow nod before she blurted out, “Homecoming!”

Buffy’s head cocked, brows pulling low. “I’m sorry?”

Willow took a deep breath and suddenly found something of interest in her lap as she said, “Xander and I have been,” her frowned deepened before she settled on the phrase Buffy had used, “hooking up since Homecoming.” Willow glanced up and Buffy tried to keep the surprise from her face, but knew she’d failed miserably as those pale eyes widened. “I wanted to tell you. So many times, but it just never seemed like the right time.”

Buffy opened her mouth and then closed it, her brows pulling low with Willow’s confession before she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around the redhead. Willow stiffened before she relaxed into the embrace and hugged her back. “I adore you,” was whispered into Willow’s strawberry scented hair and suddenly Buffy found the ability to breathe rather difficult as Willow’s grip tightened.

They pulled back in unison and Willow smiled, a real smile, and Buffy returned it as her best friend asked, “More mochas?”

A brow arched and Buffy prompted, “Shouldn’t we finish the ones we already have?”

“Who says?”

“A valid point.” Buffy snatched up her own to take another sip, “Then I say, yes please.”

“Good.” Willow eased herself back from the table and stood. “My treat.”

Buffy’s smiled widened with the offer and she nodded as Willow moved towards the counter along the far wall of the establishment. She absently sipped at her mocha before turning back to the table and pulling her croissant closer. Blunt nails picked at the pastry, breaking off a piece and popping it into her mouth as she glanced around the Espresso Pump.

The usually bustling coffee shop was eerily quiet, even for a Wednesday afternoon, though Buffy was thankful for the lack of customers since Shelia Rosenberg had finally made a reappearance in her daughter’s life which made Buffy visiting Willow’s home a near impossibility. While she was uncertain as to whether or not Shelia would remember her name, let alone that she was suppose to be dead, it seemed the safer route to meet Willow outside the Rosenberg home.

Pulling off another chunk of croissant, Buffy turned, taking in the side of the coffee house opened to the street and people watched the passersby as she chewed on the buttery goodness that was her snack. Several minutes passed, along with several more people as they moved about their daily lives before Willow rejoined her with fresh mochas and the question, “How long can you stay?”

She accepted her mocha and turned back around, toward the table. “Not long. A day at the most.”

“Oh.” Willow’s shoulders dropped.

“I’ll try to come back soon and I have the webcam now.” Buffy offered weakly before frowning and asking, “I do have the webcam now, right?”

“You do,” Willow confirmed with a nod of her head.

“Well, good. So now we can chat face to face-ish.”

“We can and will.”

“We will,” Buffy stated and Willow nodded, still frowning.

~*~


“One,” fist met palm, “Two,” again, “Three,” and on the fourth downward movement her fist flattened into the universal symbol for paper and was instantly cut by Faith’s scissor-ed fingers before the brunette grinned and took off after the last vampire. “Damn,” was groused at the now vacant spot in front of her and Buffy sighed before digging the heel of her boot into the malleable sod and spinning to watch Faith gain on the vampire as he headed towards the front of the cemetery.

She leapt over a headstone and landed easily, stride lengthening to run even with his before Faith prompted, voice nonchalant, “Where ya going?”

Buffy followed the pair at a more sedated pace as the vampire tossed Faith a confused, nearly panicked, look before she body checked him into a nearby tree. Buffy winced as he smacked face first into the hard bark and then toppled backwards to the grass. Faith paused long enough to shake her head before falling to one knee and bringing her stake rushing downward, fist hitting against his chest with a meaty thud before he shuddered and shrieked and dissolved into ash.

The brunette tossed a smirk over her shoulder as she rose, using her free hand to brush off the thin layer of dust covering her front as she tucked her stake back into the waistband of her jeans. Buffy strolled past Faith and the brunette fell into step with her as they made their way through the rest of the, now, boringly quiet cemetery. After nearly two hours with nothing but country music between herself and Xander she was ready to chatter and topic-hop and do something other than mope—moping was clearly of the bad and she wanted no part of it.

Faith’s voice cut across the silence, which was quickly turning awkward, between them as she asked, “So that’s what now? Six to four?”

Her head turned and she gave the brunette’s profile a quick study, noting her smirk, and answered her question with another question, “We’re keeping score?”

“Hell yeah!”

The enthusiasm backing Faith’s quick response forced a laugh from Buffy as she turned back to the narrow path in front of them and snarked, “How many times have you saved the world, again?”

“Please,” Faith scoffed and snapped back, “you ate it each time.”

“So?” Buffy stopped, shot Faith a quick glare, “dieing does in no way negate the fact that I saved the world,” there was pause before she emphasized, “twice!”

“B,” the brunette stopped with her and quirked a brow, “those were so null’n’voided when you died.”

“Whatever,” Buffy turned and started back down the path toward the street, “I’ll just have to save the world again and maybe I’ll let you help,” a shrug lifted her jacket-covered shoulder and she offered, “’cause I’m nice like that.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I wanna die.” Faith lengthened her stride so that she was leading Buffy onto the street outside of the cemetery and continued with, “’sides I have my own badass villains to worry about.”

A slow nod accompanied Buffy’s statement of, “Yes, the Mayor of Sunnydale is the epitome of badassery.”

“No,” Faith contradicted, “that would be us.”

“We’re the epitome of badassery?” Buffy’s head cocked as she considered the thought before a slow smile spread her lips. “I kinda love that.”

“You, should. You came up with it,” with a snort and a quick glance from side to side, Faith crossed the deserted street, “I still can’t believe my big bad is the mayor.” She stepped up, onto the sidewalk and Buffy followed her as Faith groused, “You get kick ass villains to face off against and I get—”

“A big bad that has the entire city backing them.”

Buffy’s interruption stopped Faith mid-complaint and she inclined her head. “Huh,” brown eyes narrowed and she glanced to Buffy before raising her brows, “At least we’ve proved that politicians are, for a fact, evil.”

“Some,” she agreed with a quick nod, “Of course we could just shoot him. I mean he is human,” a line appeared between her brows, “Isn’t he?”

Faith shrugged and started moving again, leading them further from the cemetery and towards the more people friendly areas of Sunnydale before asking, “What’s with you and the guns?”

“I told you about the Colt,” Buffy caught Faith’s sharp nod and continued with, “Well what I didn’t tell you was that rock salt in gun shell casings and nasty spirits are unmixy things.”

Faith’s head pivoted toward her, “No way.”

“Yes, way,” Buffy nodded and they turned down Hillside Road, “I saw it on YouTube.” She let that sink in a moment before explaining, “There were all these how to videos on ghost hunting by the Ghost-Chasers,” she paused, frowned, “or was it Ghost-Facers?” Off Faith’s raised brows she rolled her eyes and refocused, “Whatever, that’s beside the point. Shotgun shells filled with rock salt work like a charm and, apparently, the Winchesters suck ass.”

“The who?”

Buffy shrugged. “Beats me, but the guys doing the videos seemed to have an abnormal amount of hate for them.”

They passed beneath a canopy of trees and Buffy tucked her hands into the pockets of her jacket as a lull formed in their conversation and as she turned her head to ask Faith a vapid question to restart the flow of conversation Faith beat her to the punch and stated, “I still say a Slayer using guns is just weird.”

Reading behind that waspish statement, Buffy offered, “Want me to teach you?”

“God, yes,” Faith grinned, “So tell me more about this Colt.”

“Aside from the fact that it kicks demonic ass I don’t really know much.” Buffy hesitated, nearly stumbling as Faith suddenly crossed her path and headed into the trees surrounding them. “Where are we going?”

“Short cut,” was Faith’s only response and her brows rose as she retook her step and turned, following the brunette into the moonlight filled woods.

After only a few minutes Buffy noticed almost instantly that the trees were becoming sporadic and without much warning they fell away completely and the pair were dropped into neatly manicured lawns. The houses surrounding them were pristine, well-maintained monuments to normalcy that just did not belong in Sunnydale—nothing normal belonged in Sunnydale.

Faith’s thick-heeled boots cut through the damp grass and lead them past a few homes with the sounds of manufactured laughter falling from their open windows as the families that lived there enjoyed their time together and Buffy’s stomach rolled with the sound. Her stride faltering as she remembered the family she’d helped to destroy and her jaw thrust forward before she attempted to ignore the remorse blurring her vision. Her head bowed and she followed Faith, nearly plowing her over when she failed to notice the other Slayer had stopped and Buffy blinked back her tears as she looked up and stared in confusion at the park in front of them.

She spun, noted the semi-circle of homes surrounding them before she turned back to the metal and plastic construction standing before them and suddenly Faith was gone, making her way through the sand and past the monkey bars to claim a swing for herself. Buffy raised a brow as the brunette waved her over and she absently brushed away the dampness from her cheeks, grateful for the fact that Faith was ignoring her tears, and settled herself beside her sister in arms.

The tip of her boot nudged her back and brought a gentle sway to her swing as Faith grasped the metal chains sitting parallel to her and walked hers back several paces before settling her ass and lifting her legs. She passed Buffy with a woop of delight and snapped her legs back on the fall, leaning her chest forward and on her downward swing she ordered, “B, live a little.”

Blonde hair slipped forward to rest against her neck as Buffy bowed her head and followed Faith’s example. Walking her swing back several steps, she was suddenly grateful she hadn’t worn a skirt as she seated herself on the narrow plastic seat and lifted her legs. The sudden exhilaration as she swung forward pushed back the thoughts of the family haunting her and she bent her knees as she reached the pinnacle of her swing and began to fall backwards.

Her legs straightened, knees locking on her forward swing and she ignored the gritty feel of the sand she was kicking up when her boot heels scraped the indentation she was creating beneath her. A laugh tickled the back of her throat and Buffy smiled as she noticed she and Faith were on opposite cycles, one would fall as the other rose, and they shared a quick grin before both faced forward and continued to pump their feet in time with their pendulum-like swings.

A cloud eased its way across the moon and leached the color from the small park, throwing them into dappled shadows as the first of their laughter replaced the light. Filling this small pocket of families and pretty homes with something very close to happiness and Buffy turned her head, gasping as she told Faith, “I can not tell you how much I needed this.”

Her only response was Faith’s smile of triumph and another lifting of her knees as her sister Slayer attempted to pull an ‘Inside Out Boy’ and make it over the bar. The snap of her chains the higher she got filled the sudden quiet left after their laughter and Buffy’s swings slowed, losing their momentum as reality set back in and the clouds darkening the sky thickened. When her swing came to a complete stop she rose and grasped the chains tighter, anchoring them as she straddled the narrow seat and made it easier for her to watch Faith.

She leaned back against one of the chains as she kept a firm grip on the other in front of her and after a few minutes the metal supports on the set began to shudder and groan and with a curse Faith’s swings slowed. The mass of tight brown curls Faith hair had started out the night in had become windblown and fell around her pale features in a loose mass that was more flattering than the previous style—not that Buffy was going to tell Faith that, since she liked her nose just the way it was, thanks very much.

Once the brunette’s swing had come to a complete stop she mirrored Buffy and straddled her swing so that they were sitting face to face. A hand reached forward, wrapping around the chain in front of Faith and she leaned into her arm as she gave Buffy a careful study before asking, voice uncertain, “Wanna talk?”

Her jaw clenched, nostrils flaring slightly as she looked past Faith and toward the homes and the families, the false comfort surrounding them and wanted so badly to confide, to just say something, anything. Faith interrupted her internal struggle with, “It’s alright if you don’t,” she paused and Buffy shifted her focus back to her, saw Faith’s bowed head and the toe of her boot digging in the sand, “I’m here when you do,” her shoulders stiffened, “If you do.”

“I wasn’t the Slayer.” Buffy averted her gaze, stared past Faith as the brunette’s head snapped back up and she felt her gaze on her as she clarified, “In hell. I wasn’t the Slayer. I wasn’t anything,” a tremble entered her voice and it grew quieter as she continued to focus anywhere, but on Faith, “I was weak. They made me weak and the things they did,” she paused, her tongue easing out to wet suddenly dry lips, “They ripped you apart and you felt it. Every cut of a blade. Every blow. Everything. You. Felt. It.”

She bit out the last sentence and the first stirrings of anger eased their way forward to thread in her voice as she continued unaware that she’d slipped into present tense, “They fuck with your head and they break you. They break you over and over,” a tear slipped past her lashes to fall down her cheek as the anger faded and she sagged, adding one last, “and over,” before falling quiet.

“Buffy.” She flinched with Faith’s hesitant utterance of her name, but turned her head and met her horrified gaze. There was a moment of silence as Faith searched her face before anger, for her, for what she had been through, replaced the horror and the brunette rose, offered Buffy her hand and stated, “Let’s go kick the shit outta something.”

She hadn’t told Faith everything, she’d barely told her a thimbleful, but it had been enough to loosen the tightness in her stomach a few degrees and she took the offered help. Buffy rose and gave Faith a tired smile before agreeing, “I like that plan.”

Faith linked her arm through Buffy’s and explained, “It’s not so much a plan, B, as a way of life.”

~*~

Mist had settled in the shallow valleys of Shady Hill Cemetery, saturating the grass and leaving a heavy chill to the morning air that brought a slight chatter to Buffy’s teeth. She clenched her jaw, pushing her next breath out through her nose and she ignored the way it fogged the air in front of her as she made her way through the temporary markers that had, for the time being, replaced the marble and granite tombstones her resurrection had destroyed. The trees toppled that day had been removed and the gapping holes filled with fresh soil and sod and in some areas saplings had been planted.

The soles of her boots crunched over the newly laid gravel walkway as she made her way deeper, retracing the path she’d taken as the sky paled from grey to lavender and the sun rose, breaking the horizon. Light spilled through the shrubbery acting as privacy walls between Shady Hill and the outside world as Buffy hesitated in her next step. Green eyes narrowed on the few markers still standing along the north side and she made her way closer, past a dank and hollowed out mausoleum, only half standing in the quickly fading twilight.

Several small walls of granite stood directly across from her and Buffy saw that the hole she’d crawled her way out of had been refilled and smoothed. The padded shoulders of her jacket hunched as she rolled them inward and her hands, warm and safe in the lined pockets of her coat, balled into fists and began to tremble with the urge to shatter the tactile reminder of her own death standing before her. A faint sound above her inclined Buffy’s head and she turned away from her grave, falling back a step and then another before looking skyward.

It grew in intensity and volume, vaguely reminding her of the sound paper made when shuffled and Buffy took another step backwards, gaze trained upward. Green eyes narrowed and then widened as the sound snapped into focus and she realized it was the clatter wings that were quickly joined by a soft chorus of bells as the sky above her brightened. The splash of blue across dark lavender paled to a vivid white that left her breathless and blinking. The light continued to grow in proximity and clarity, until it encompassed everything else and Buffy collapsed backwards, impacting the damp grass and falling deeper.

A spasm shook her body and the sense of falling evaporated as she awoke, frowning at the fact that her head was suddenly cushioned by her arms and she was staring down at a well polished tabletop. Her brows dipped, pulling together as she lifted her head, chin coming to rest on her forearms as she looked to the stack of books directly in front of her. Lashes dipping as her eyes narrowed on their text-less spines and she lifted her chin and raised her upper body, slowly taking in the fact that she was in the library of Sunnydale High School.

The corners of her mouth drew inward as she leaned back from the table, palms pressed to the edge as she glanced toward the double doors leading into the school. Her frown became more prominent as a small frame, blood pooled beneath them flickered in an out of existence and Buffy tried shake off the vague sense of confusion muddling her thoughts as she turned away from the phantom memory and stiffened, eyes widening at the sight of a prettier than most woman, not much older than herself, sitting across from her.

Buffy simply stared at her a moment, noticing how very red her hair looked against the pale green of her jacket and that she had a few too many buttons opened on her blouse. Pale hands were pressed, fingers spread wide, against the table between them and Buffy frowned at the peaceful posture and pose before the woman’s bottom-heavy mouth quirked and she offered, “Hello, Buffy.”

After a moment’s hesitation Buffy replied, “Hi.”

“I’m sorry.”

Buffy blinked, suddenly more confused than before and prompted, “For?”

“The cemetery,” she paused, dark brows dipping as Buffy remained wholly confused and she explained, “my arrival. I was certain you would be able to gaze upon me…” she trailed off, offered a somewhat feeble shrug, “I’m sorry.”

The chair Buffy was sitting in clattered backwards as she suddenly rose, her confusion gone as her memory of the cemetery and all that transpired moments before her arrival in the library came rushing back. She took several steps away from the table, the stranger, placing herself closer to the stairs leading up to the higher section of the library and the weapons cabinet before she stiffened, understanding completely dawning as she stated, “I’m unconscious.”

A pinched look briefly flickered across the redhead’s features before she rose and reiterated, “I am sorry.”

“Right,” Buffy’s arms rose, crossing beneath her breasts as she shot her a considering look, “what else are you?”

“You don’t know?”

Buffy frowned at the raising of her dark brows and sighed. “You’re an angel, aren’t you?”

“I am,” she took another step closer and Buffy tensed, she paused and offered, “I’m Anna.”

The blonde shifted her weight onto the balls of her feet, swaying back with the movement as she prompted, “Well, Anna,” there was a slight pause after the name before Buffy finished, “what can I do you for?”

Another half smile lifted the angel’s mouth. “I wanted to meet you. Talk with you.”

“About?” Buffy frowned at her second one word question in less than a minute.

“I wanted to offer you my help.”

“Why?” There went another one—eloquent she currently was not. Buffy uncrossed her arms and shrugged her shoulders as she took a small step forward and clarified, “Aren’t you already helping me?”

Anna moved toward her, but paused when Buffy flinched back. “I’m different from the others you’ve met.”

“Different? Different how?” Buffy frowned and offered, “Well you’re not as rude as Uriel.”

“Few are.”

Her dry response had Buffy’s eyes widening and she added, “And you might have a sense of humor.”

Anna’s smile spread and then vanished as if it had never been, her head inclining and gaze growing unfocused a moment before her chin lifted and her green eyes locked with Buffy’s. “I have to go, but before I do,” she took another step closer, “do you want my help?”

“Wait, now wait just a damn minute,” Buffy snapped and then glared at the angel, “You come outta nowhere and then just as suddenly you want to leave? What the hell?”

“I’m not like the others and I don’t have time to explain how and why that is,” Anna was simply in front of Buffy and the blonde stiffened, nearly falling in her attempt to back away as the angel caught the crook of her right arm and continued with, “I’m exposed at the moment, but I want to help you.”

“I don’t know you! How can I trust you?”

“How can you trust Castiel?”

Buffy’s eyes narrowed. “What is that suppose to mean?”

“Do you know his orders?” Anna took another step, invading Buffy’s personal space and the tight grip on her arm held the blonde immobile as she asked, “Where they come from?”

“Heaven.”

“Are you so sure?”

“Castiel is one of the good guys.”

Buffy swallowed, mouth falling into a thin line as she stared mutinously up at Anna whose voice softened as she agreed, “Castiel is one of the few that I would trust,” she paused before adding, “within reason.” Her gaze searched Buffy’s once more before she sighed and stated, “I wanted your permission, but I don’t need it.”

Warmth enveloped the bend of her right arm and Buffy’s eyes widened as that warmth seeped through her coat and sweater to sear her flesh. She gasped, falling to her knees as the pain radiated up her arm and into her shoulder. Buffy ground her teeth together as Anna gazed down at her, brow drawn low as she offered, voice tired, “I really am sorry,” and then the pain continued upward, cording the muscles in Buffy’s neck.

It struck her head, her mind as a white hot rush of agony that bowed Buffy’s spine and she collapsed backwards as another spasm racked her slim frame. She awoke in the grass, blinking up at the pale blue sky and pushed back the disorientation of yet another reality shift. Her elbows dug into the sod beneath her and she eased herself up slowly, careful to keep her head as steady as feasibly possible while it continue to throb in time with her irregular and frantic heartbeat.

When the power-bar she’d snagged from Dormer’s pantry remained in her stomach Buffy risked putting palm to ground as she rose on shaky legs. Wincing slightly when the bend of her elbow protested the extra weight and she ignored it, for the moment, to focus on getting out of Shady Hill Cemetery and to the false safety of her car. Tucking her right arm close to her body she moved swiftly and silently back through the temporary markers and mist, wishing silently the sun had risen high enough to beat at her back and chase away the chill settling deep.

She passed the tall wall of vines and shrubs acting as the not so stable wall of the cemetery and used her left hand to flip back her coat and reach into her right pocket for her car keys. Nimble fingers snagged the cold key ring and dragged them free as she slow-jogged the rest of the way to her Civic and after only a few fumbling tries the driver’s side door was open and she was behind the wheel. Buffy jabbed the lock with her thumb, locking the door and sat back, staring blankly out the windshield toward the empty street and the just waking up neighborhood beyond it.

Transferring her keys to her right hand she ground her teeth together as she stretched out her arm and forced herself to turn on her car. The engine purred to life and she quickly flipped the air-conditioning on and turned the dial to red while whispering to her car’s engine, “Come on, baby, warm up,” before giving the dash a reassuring pat of encouragement with her left hand.

The sharp stinging in her right arm was quickly fading to a dull throb and she wasn’t entirely sure which hurt more at the moment, her head or her arm, but both were being complete and utter bitches. Letting her head fall back to rest against the back of her seat, she closed her eyes a moment, focusing instead on her breathing and waited for the car to heat up enough so that she could remove her jacket in relative comfort. A few minutes of silence passed in which her heartbeat slowed to a more natural rhythm and the interior of her car became less frigid than the outside world and Buffy finally opened her eyes.

Sunlight had come to spill across the dash of her car and she smiled with the fact that her head felt a little less heavy as she leaned forward and began to unbutton her coat. The plaid peacoat she’d worn to see Cordelia the day before was peeled away from her front and she shrugged her shoulders out of it, before freeing her left arm and using it to free her right. The throb at the bend of her elbow intensified with the added movement as she struggled to push the coat sleeve down and off without aggravating it further.

Tension tightened her shoulders and jaw, until she breathed a sigh of relief when the coat fell to rest in the seat next to her and her right arm was free. Buffy flexed the fingers of her right hand, feeling only a slight twinge when she moved them before beginning to gently pull up her sweater’s sleeve. The tension in her jaw forced her to thrust it forward as the soft fabric was dragged against her skin and reminded her more of sandpaper than spun wool.

She shoved it up the rest of the way and then paused, green eyes widening at sight of the raised and welted skin, barely the size of a quarter, sitting between the bend of her arm and the slightly protruding bone of her elbow. Buffy frowned at the marking and winced as she straightened her arm, flattening the raised edges of the welt so that she could see it in stark red contrast to her pale skin. It was slightly off center, sitting closer to the tender skin on the inside of the bend of her arm and the circular shape and odd markings in the center made her guess it was Anna’s mark—just like the handprint was Castiel’s.

“Son of a bitch,” Buffy snarled to no one in particular before shaking her sweater back down and over her soon to be newest scar.

Leaning forward she snagged her cell out of the cup holder nearest to her and sent a quick text to Faith and Willow, before turning and tugging her seatbelt over and on. The downward shove of her hand made a satisfying click as the seatbelt locked and she pressed down on the brake before putting the car in drive and placing her cell back in the cup holder. She’d planned on making one more visit to Cordelia, but she didn’t feel entirely comfortable with involving her friends—especially the wounded—with all the celestial beings and what not. The Civic pulled away from the curb and she led it away from Shady Hill Cemetery and toward one of the main roads leading out of Sunnydale.

At the first stop sign she flipped the visor down and unhooked her sunglasses from it before placing the square frames over her eyes just as the sun was becoming glaring. She eased the car forward, into the early morning traffic and welcomed the quiet that accompanied her to the city limits. Relaxing into her seat and silently debating between simply heading to Primrose’s or taking a picture of this new development, it took Buffy a moment to realize she had a passenger.

The Civic swerved, cutting across to the next lane of traffic and then back into her own as Buffy shot Castiel a glare and groused, “Polite people announce themselves.”

He remained focused on the world outside the windshield for a long moment before his head turned, slow and precise, toward her. “I was in the neighborhood.”

Buffy glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Did you just make a funny?” She paused before adding, “Did it hurt?”

The trench coat that draped his lean frame crinkled with his slight shift, as if he were human and uneasy, in the seat before he stated, “I thought perhaps,” Castiel paused, again as if he were unsure, before continuing with, “you would welcome some company for a short while.”

Her brows rose sharply towards her hairline, hands tensing against the steering wheel and that involuntary movement brought with it a searing pain as Anna’s mark made itself known to her once more. Buffy frowned, glancing down at the burn hidden by her sweater before a pointed chin dropped in agreement and she asked, “Am I heading anywhere in particular?”

“Creedmoor, Texas.”

“Wow, an actual city and state,” she glanced at him briefly, “I’m impressed, Castiel.” Her smile spread with his silence and she reached out, adjusting her visor as she merged the Civic with the rushing traffic on the highway and waited until they were in they were safely in the middle lane before asking, almost hopeful he would reply, “What’s in Creedmoor?”

Castiel remained facing forward as he spoke, voice soft and grave, “A very special, very important rosary.”

“So the Catholics got it right?”

She felt, more than saw, Castiel turn to gaze at her as he stated, “The rosary is a symbol of faith as is the Star of David.”

“So you’re not giving an inch?” When he failed to reply Buffy rolled her eyes and refocused, “What do you need this rosary for?”

“I do not.”

“Then why are we going to get it?”

“The rosary belonged to a priest who achieved Sainthood.” Castiel paused in his explanation and returned to facing forward before explaining, “That type of faith, devotion carries power. It carries protection. We are obtaining this rosary for you.”

“Oh.” Buffy contemplated the perfect reply before settling on, “cool beans.”


The end.

Reviews = Love

The End

You have reached the end of "Lapsang Souchong". This story is complete.

StoryReviewsStatisticsRelated StoriesTracking